Who could pass up the chance to create a private bike trail overlooking the Potomac and the C&O Canal or to build the world's longest ranch house? Apparently, just about everyone.

A narrow, three-mile strip of land where a picturesque trolley once ran from the District to Glen Echo was auctioned off in Rockville yesterday for $42,500 -- to the lone bidder, Leonard N. Bebchick.

Bebchick, a lawyer, bought the land on behalf of Washington area transit riders who were overcharged decades ago.

Many longtime residents of the Washington area fondly recall the Glen Echo and Cabin John trolley line, which shut down on Jan 3, 1960.

Trolley buff Bob Truax of the D.C. Tractioneers said it was "a beautiful line," running alongside the river and canal before ending just beyond the Glen Echo Amusement Park.

The 15-acre trolley corridor is 120 feet across at its widest point and narrows to 30 feet in some places. The land, which no longer contains any tracks, became embroiled in a long-running dispute between the company that owned the trolley and the city's transit riders.

Transit riders filed a successful class-action suit in the 1960s challenging fare increases by the D.C. Transit System Inc., which operated Washington's bus system and street cars in addition to the trolley.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Riders Fund, a nonprofit group created to hold the millions of dollars of refunds, forced yesterday's auction after the D.C. Transit System defaulted on its remaining debt to the riders.

Bebchick, court-appointed counsel for the Riders Fund, said he has no plans to develop the property, which was assessed at $571,000. "I think the bulk of the property has no value, except to the National Park Service," he said. Bebchick added that he'd like to sell the land to the Park Service so it can make the Clara Barton Parkway four lanes throughout.

But Audrey Calhoun, assistant superintendent of the George Washington Parkway, said the Park Service doesn't have the money to widen the two-lane part of the Clara Barton Parkway.

Nevertheless, she added, "If someone were to donate {the trolley corridor} to us, we'd be more than happy to take it."

Bebchick said that because the Riders Fund is a nonprofit organization, it would get no tax benefit from such a donation, and he doesn't intend to make it.

Glen Echo Town Council member Bill Shultz attended the auction and approached Bebchick yesterday about donating the Glen Echo segment of his new property to the town of 350. He was turned down.

The dispute that prompted yesterday's auction began with the fare increases granted in the 1960s to the D.C. Transit System. A federal court of appeals ruled in 1973 that riders were entitled to a substantial refund. Sixteen years later, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for a multimillion-dollar refund.

Bebchick said that not one cent of refund money has yet gone to riders because the U.S. Court of Appeals here has not approved a distribution plan. The fund now has $11 million, most of it invested in Treasury notes, and is still owed $4.8 million by the D.C. Transit System, Bebchick said.

When the Riders Fund is finally tapped, Bebchick doesn't want the millions used to lower bus and subway fares. "I want something tangible to show the riders that after 30 years of litigation they've got something for their money," he said. What does he have in mind? More bus shelters.